Box Turtles Care
Dr. David Nieves
Since box turtles are semi-aquatic and spend a considerable amount of time wallowing in water, a water "hole" needs to be provided. As a general rule of thumb, the water depth should be no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of their shell height or approximately 5 cm. Their pool area can be in the form of a large pie plate, a buried kitty litter pan, or a ceramic dog bowl with a ramp to facilitate exiting.
The water should be thermostatically controlled with a water heater to keep the temperature in an optimum range. Lastly, a filtration system is ideal since often turtles use the pools as a toilet, and bacterial contamination is harmful to these reptiles. In all instances, the water needs to be changed completely and frequently, and the pan must be cleaned and disinfected with a dilute bleach solution regularly.
The best time to feed your turtle is after he has warmed up a while in the morning. It is better to move the turtle to a different tank for feeding. This is to help keep the primary habitat cleaner and less contaminated bacterially.
Young turtles should be fed daily while adult turtles can be fed every other day. It is important to note that when box turtles are young, they are more omnivorous, meaning they will eat almost anything. As they mature they become more herbivorous, meaning they prefer to eat mostly plant material.
Adult turtle diets should be comprised of less than 10 percent protein calories. Although the diet preferences of box turtles lean towards sweet and colorful fruits and vegetables such as carrots, orange squash, green beans, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, cherries, plums, and melons with the rinds, including flowers, it is important for them to eat plenty (i.e. over 60 percent) of dark leafy greens such as collard or mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce and carrot tops.
If your turtle picks out the sweets, you will need to finely chop all the produce and mix it together so that when he takes a bite of food, he gets a little of everything. This technique works most of the time, but if your turtle is still insistent on picking out the sweets, many box turtles can be tricked into eating their greens by food processing the greens with a bit of tuna fish or dog food. The strong flavor of the protein overwhelms the flavor of the greens. If you use this technique, it is important to reduce the percent protein over two to three months to 10 percent of the mixture. Long term, high protein diets can damage box turtle kidneys.
A vitamin supplement such as Nekton-rep® or Reptivite® should be sprinkled on the food twice a week to help prevent many of the common deficiencies that occur in captive raised turtles. The calcium supplement should not contain phosphorous or Vitamin D and should be used daily in growing turtles and once or twice a week in adults.
Although high protein diets are a problem, box turtles do require some protein in their diets. Examples of appropriate protein sources are crickets or mealworms, which have been fed on tropical fish flakes/ cricket food and fruit for at least one day; snails and slugs, which have been fed on green leafy vegetables for four days; earthworms, home raised, since bait shops tend to raise worms in unhealthy environments; or whole fish. Some experts recommend finely chopped and cooked chicken, high quality canned dog food, or trout chow as an alternative protein source. It is important to keep the diet balanced with a combination of the above listed items especially when the turtle is young, and to decrease the protein as the turtle matures.
Remember that the concentration of calories is much higher in protein foods than it is in vegetables. Therefore, a little bit will go a long way. One to two teaspoons of protein food daily is adequate for most young turtles, and a tablespoon a few times per week is plenty for adult turtles.
Petals from edible flowers (hibiscus, roses, geraniums, nasturtiums) and edible cactus (Optunia) can be used to add variety to your turtle's diet. Make sure that all produce and flowers are pesticide free. Edible flowers and Optunia are available in many high end grocery stores.
If you watch your pet closely, and if you do not use pesticides or herbicides in your yard, your box turtle may enjoy taking a stroll and browsing in gardens or on lawns.